Q+A with Traveling Chef Jim Deneven

As a chef, surfer, and outdoor artist, Jim Denevan appreciates the connection we have with the earth, which is why he created Outstanding in the Field (outstandinginthefield.com), a roaming culinary endeavor that unites diners with the source of their food. Denevan, 46, and his crew move across the country stopping and cooking for guests at various farms along the way. With fresh ingredients hand picked on the spot, it doesn't get more farm-to-table than this.

How did this idea come about?
As a teenager working on my brother Bill's organic farm, I was always aware of the relation between land and food. Later, as a chef at Gabriella Cafe in Santa Cruz, began hosting "farmers' dinners." The farmer behind the evening's ingredients would sit at a table and share his or her experiences of growing the food. These dinners became really popular, and thought, "Why not take them right to the farm?"

What kinds of people do the dinners attract?
We get some folks who grew up on farms but haven't been to one in years -- and foodie-types who follow a chef. Some attend just because they see the farm as culturally significant. That's the biggest reason got into it: the idea of going beyond the supermarket to promote a local culture. We've crossed the country three times, discovering a rich tradition of food hidden in every state along the way. Every region has a story with food.

Which have been your favorite dinners?
I like the more challenging ones. We traveled a few thousand miles just to get to our site in Alaska. But our dinner included Kachemak Bay oysters served with the 6,400-foot Pioneer Peak in the background. One time, we hosted a salmon dinner in a dry sea cave in San Gregorio, California, with the fisherman present. The biggest challenge was carrying the chairs, tables, and food a very great distance across the beach and into the cave. Not everyone on the staff. was into that idea.

What actions do you hope your guests will take after a night of dining?
Make choices that further value food culture. Plant a garden or visit a farm. If you don't have access to one, go to a farmers' market and talk with a grower. It's the next best thing to actually visiting a farm, and it offers a way to establish a connection with the origin of your food.

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